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Guest column: DSG resolution ignores Jewish voices

guest column

On September 25, DSG voted to condemn the US Department of Education in response to the Department’s criticism over a university sponsored—and federally funded—anti-Semitic event that was sponsored by Duke and UNC this past spring. 

You may be wondering, how might Jewish students feel about this? How may this outcry against condemnation of anti-Semitism land on Jewish ears? As a member of the Jewish community at Duke University, I am incredibly disappointed in DSG for excluding the Jewish community in any discussion regarding the resolution—there was no effort to seek the larger Jewish perspective on this not-so-complex issue. Though DSG has made a statement “condemning” anti-Semitism, the mere act of passing this resolution in defense of the Duke-UNC CMES department’s conference indicates that the condemnation of anti-Semitism was an empty gesture.

While the conflict in the Middle East is indubitably one of the most confusing, involved, and emotional geopolitical crises known to man, the matter of anti-Semitism is distinct and clear. The failure of student government to recognize and address the blatant anti-Semitic discourse and fervor that occurred at the "Conflict Over Gaza" Conference is astounding. 

The presence of such disgusting expressions of prejudice and hatred at the conference spurred the condemnation of the program by the US Department of Education in the first place, in response to a letter that was sent to Betsy DeVos from Representative George Holding decrying not only the blatant anti-Israel bias, but also the “brazenly anti-Semitic song” performed by rapper Tamer Nafar. 

To ignore this cause-and-effect relationship is an indication that DSG has no semblance of an idea as to what the problem actually is, neglecting the context that prompted the investigation. The root problem is not criticism of Israel itself or academic free speech, but the outbreak of overt anti-Semitism seemingly planned in advance and paid for with federal funding. DSG’s conflation of free speech with taxpayer-funded hate speech should raise serious questions as to their blind acceptance of misinformation and capacity to address the concerns of the Jewish community at Duke. 

According to a report in the Chronicle, Senator Omar Benallal spoke against tabling the resolution on the grounds that the pressing nature of the resolution could not afford “the lost time” of “having a conversation with the Duke administration.” What exactly does this mean? 

Does it mean that DSG felt the need to act so quickly in order to deliberately exclude the opinions of the general student body? Maybe the Jewish perspective, or the perspective of anyone with a differing viewpoint, was not a desirable one to consider. What are the implications of this thought process and consequent action on the espoused ideal of diverse viewpoints in academic instruction at Duke University and within DSG, then?

Some news accounts—undoubtedly some that our fellow students have read—have implied or even outright stated that the Department of Education was on a “witch hunt” for instances of bias. It can’t be called much of a “hunt” when the taxpayer-funded rapper quite literally sang the words:

“I cannot be anti-Semitic alone…. Don’t think of Rihanna when you sing this, don’t think of Beyoncé—think of Mel Gibson. Mama, I have bad news. I was stuck in the elevator with this hot chick. Sit down, mama, sit down. Cuz your son fell in love with a Jew. I’m in love with a Jew/Oh/I fell in love with a Jew/Oh/Her skin is white and my skin is brown, she was going up up and I was going down.”

Unquestionably, free speech, and even hate speech itself that falls under this umbrella, is constitutionally protected. Moreover, all free speech should arguably have its place at a university, where all ideas should be subjected to debate and scrutiny. 

However, events and programs that encourage anti-Semitism—or racism of any form—should never be sponsored by the University and should definitely not obtain funding by taxpayer dollars. By passing this resolution, DSG displays a deep misunderstanding of the difference between “free speech” and speech that is sponsored by Duke and the federal government. DSG’s priorities seem to be to stifle discourse and further divide the student body on what should be a simple choice—to stand in solidarity with Jewish peers against the scourge of anti-Semitism sponsored and promoted by their “academic” institution. 

The U.S. Department of Education was not “trying to re-write Duke’s curriculum,” and it is ignorant to suggest otherwise. Regardless of one’s political differences with the leaders of the DoE, blindness to the impetus of the entire matter—anti-Semitism backed by taxpayer dollars—cannot be excused. It is not necessary to agree with the DoE’s entire letter, which clearly contains bias, to agree with the ideological paradigm clearly motivating some of the language used in the letter, or to believe that the DoE has any proper solutions for fixing the Duke-UNC Middle East curriculum so it can adhere to the qualifications for federal funding. 

Rather, all I am suggesting is that we must understand why the letter was written in the first place: overt anti-Semitism sponsored by Duke and UNC, paid for by taxpayers. DSG’s decision to condemn the letter without seemingly acknowledging its cause is yet another unprovoked attack on the Jewish community. 

Dorothy Gheorghiu is a Trinity junior.

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